FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Cindy Morriston has spent her entire career caring for animals on Fort Jackson.

Morriston was recently named Veterinarian Hospital/Clinic Employee of the Year by the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians. She's an administrative assistant at the Fort Jackson Veterinary Treatment Facility, where she has provided veterinary support for both the post and the Shaw Air Force Base communities for 21 years.

"I work with some wonderful people, and I love being around the dogs and the cats," Morriston said. "And I've got some really wonderful clients whom I've known for quite a few years now."

She said her arrival at the animal clinic more than two decades ago was a matter of chance.

"My husband's military, and we were stationed in Germany prior to this," she said. "It was luck: I walked in here one day when I brought my dog for an appointment. I thought, "This would be a great job.' A month later the job opened. I applied for it, got it and have been here every since."

Tim Loonam began his veterinary career at Fort Jackson and said he first met Morriston shortly after he completed veterinarian school. Despite his confidence and new degree, he discovered he still had a lot to learn. Early in his career, he ignored Morriston's warnings and attempted to treat a noncommissioned officer's pet cat, which had been brought to the clinic with a bite wound. It wasn't the kind of injury routinely treated at the clinic, but Loonam said he gave it his best shot.

He shared the anecdote with Morriston's co-workers last week during an award presentation at the clinic. The story did not have a happy ending, at least for the cat.

"The good news was that Cindy introduced me to a very good veterinarian here in town, and he became my mentor," Loonam said. "We had nowhere to go but up from there. I grew up a lot as a veterinarian, and a lot of that was because of Cindy."

Loonam said the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians offers three awards each year: Veterinarian Hospital/Clinic Employee of the Year; Veterinarian of the Year; and Veterinary Technician of the Year. Morriston was nominated by her colleagues for the award, submitting letters about her contributions to the clinic and its clients.

"Cindy gets forgotten," Loonam said. "When you're in a clinic like this, and there are people in and out of here every 18 months, it's easy to forget how much Cindy does. It was our pleasure to put this together."

"I want to thank you guys for writing those wonderful letters for me," Morriston told her co-workers during last Friday's award presentation. "You have no idea what this means. If it wasn't for the great doctors and technicians I've worked with over the years, I never would have gotten this. I thank you all very much."